The National Weather Service maps from the United States show badly needed moisture may be coming to some of the driest areas of the prairies in the next seven days.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's most recent Percent of Average Precipitation for the Prairie Region (Sept. 1, 2015, to April 18, 2016, not shown) show the driest areas of the prairies as a varying band which runs from Pincher Creek through Medicine Hat in the south all the way to high level in the north, representing 60% to 85% of average precipitation.
The map changes drastically when one considers moisture received over the past three months, with AAFC's 3-Month Percent of Average Precipitation for the Prairie Region showing almost all of southern Alberta facing a lack of precipitation in the Jan. 20 through April 18 period. The driest area, stretching in a band from Calgary through Brooks and close to Medicine Hat, has received less than 40% of average precipitation over the three months in question. The dry area also extends into Saskatchewan, with the driest area from the Saskatchewan/Alberta border, running through Rosetown and Swift Current and angling south to Regina/ Weyburn mostly seeing 60% to 85% of average precipitation.
John Pomeroy, director of the Centre for Hydrology at the University of Saskatchewan, points to both NASA and Environment Canada data which shows the average monthly temperatures on the prairies which were 4 degrees warmer than normal over the Jan/Feb/March period, while as high as 6 degrees above normal in some areas. Environment Canada views this past winter as the third warmest on record over the past 70 years while the second driest.
Another signal of the seriousness of the current dry conditions is seen on the attached chart, which shows the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System Fire Danger forecast map released by Natural Resources Canada. The government's monitoring system has shown a significant increase in the high through extreme ratings in the last few days, with extreme risk shown in red across most of southern Alberta and western Saskatchewan.
This situation was amplified by record temperatures reached in the western prairies on Tuesday. Calgary's temperature reached 27 degrees C on Tuesday, nudging above the previous 1910 record and the hottest temperature reached since 1885. More northern communities of Grande Prairie and Peace River reached even higher temperatures, at 29 C and 28 C respectively. This was not unexpected, with DTN Senior Meteorologist Doug Webster pointing to the potential for temperatures to be 6 C to 12 C above normal in his April 14 blog titled Summer Preview Next Week for W. Canada. Temperatures are expected to cool drastically, with a quick look at southern Alberta daily high temperatures ranging from 14 C to 18 C on Saturday and 6 C to 11 C on Monday, leading to one Alberta meteorologist calling this week's record temperatures a "one-off" and not necessarily a sign of what's to come.
Current National Weather Service 7-day forecasts show moisture to hit much of Alberta and western Saskatchewan starting on Saturday, which will help relieve tensions across this area for the time being. While much of southern Alberta could see in the neighborhood of an inch of moisture, the highest expectations are shown along the U.S. border in south-east Alberta of close to 2 inches. As one local weather forecaster put it, it's not significant moisture but "we could see more in three days than received over the past three months."
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